Not my actual kid, obviously. Not my actual arm, either. You can tell because it doesn’t have an Apple watch on it. But these attitudes certainly can crop up in my actual kid and my actual arm.
Years ago, I read a book called “Shepherding a Child’s Heart.” I loved the idea — to get to the heart of the child, helping them to understand their need to submit their will to the will of those in authority over them. Honestly, the idea still resonates. But, turns out, being an authoritarian parent doesn’t actually work.
As a child, I was highly motivated to do the right thing. This, however, did not extend to my attitude about doing it. I mainly wanted to avoid punishment and disapproval. So I might have looked really shiny and obedient on the outside, but inside I was just biding my time. I didn’t REALLY believe I had to do what someone else wanted unless they were bigger and stronger than me and held the key to the cookie jars of life.
The Pendulum of Parenting
Turns out, I’ve been rather a pendulumatic parent. Swinging over to authoritarianism, just adamant that my kids would do what I told them to do. “I say jump. You say how high.” AND YOU JUMP. Then swinging back over to permissiveness when the glaring flaws of authoritarian parenting got too glary.
The current child who needs parenting doesn’t respond well to authoritarian parenting. (Does any child truly respond well to this in a long-term “this turns out to be a good thing” kind of way? I vote no.) So, I’ve been on the permissive end of the pendulum for a long time. Guess what. Being permissive works, but makes your kid unpleasant to be around, as they do what you tell them . . . IF they want to.
The Best Laid Plans
If only I could say that I had made plans and stuck to them all along. But the main plan I had was just to get through another day. Somehow, in spite of all my careering left and right, our 11-year-old son (with Down syndrome) is a delightful child. So fun to be around, funny sense of humor, cute little “Keplerisms” throughout his language.
But, we do have this issue of him being quite selective in his choice to obey or otherwise heed directions from his parents and other adults in his life.
Having a Choice is Da Bomb
Humans like to have a choice. We like to feel some sort of control over our lives. Yes, control can often be an illusion, but not always. And Kepler is a human, and he likes to have some control over his life.
I think of all the challenges that he faces — being understood as he struggles to articulate the words he is saying, implementing executive planning functions when he is asked to do too many things at one time, figuring out the whole social scene with what is appropriate and what is not. Things that all kids face along the way, but maybe have more success in reaching those milestones earlier in life. And it makes sense to me that he simply wants to have a say in things.
Problem comes when the things he wants to have a say in are not really things he gets to have a say in, in the fashion he is trying to have his say!
Remedial Parenting, Not Even Parenting 101: The Power of Choice
Ultimately, I would like for him to come to a place of understanding that the adults in his life care about him and therefore he can trust them when they give him a direction and therefore it’s actually in his best interest to comply. This gets complicated when the adults in his life are imperfect and give him a direction that is more for THEIR best interest. So, as much as I initially thought it would be so dreamy for him to just give me first-time obedience, every day, 24/7, in the long run, I think that focusing on the relationship as the primary value is where I want to have my pendulum rest.
For now, I am working on giving him a choice between two options that are both appropriate. I told his pediatrician, “I just want him to do what I say!” And she laughed. “Don’t we all! All of us parents would love to have that happen.” Giving him a choice is a bit of a backdoor to him obeying, because I don’t really think this qualifies as obedience when he is the one making the choice. But, baby steps are still steps.
So I am stepping back from wanting to demand obedience. However we got here, when I demand anything, I pretty much end up getting the exact opposite. For now, I am focusing on helping him be successful in completing tasks, getting places, making good decisions, and maintaining the relationship. Then we can build on those successes and start to learn how to do things we don’t want to do right this minute.
As Per Usual, Parenting is a Microcosm of Life
I am most comfortable with structure and clarity and routine and confidence. Huh. Turns out, so is Kepler. Life doesn’t always provide structure and clarity and routine, now does it? So, learning to adjust to change, even changes that seem or are unfair, is part of growing up into a successful adult. I still struggle with it, to be perfectly honest. But I’m learning. And he will too.